[VIEWPOINT]Ethics apply to Internet use alsoI heard a joke from a senior journalist friend at an year-end party.
“The only topic we can write about with peace of mind is about three hos and one jang,” he said.
When I failed to understand he added, “ho-ui, ho-sik, ho-saek (dress well, live well, be sensual) and jangsu (live long).”
He meant that there is no problem when journalists write about the happiness of the petit bourgeois, but if they write about topics like politics and ideologies, there is a high chance of their being stoned, so it is better not to. It was a comment that deplored our dreary society where people attack others without hesitation if they have conflicting opinions.
In the past, this was a tendency normally seen in politics. Judging from the on-going debate about Dr. Hwang Woo-suk’s stem-cell research, it seems that this bad trait of politics has now spread to the field of science also.
Ultimate responsibility for the attacks lies with the “PD Notebook” program of the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation. The producers of the program tried to raise the issue of scientific ethics but themselves ignored journalistic ethics. They did not confirm facts and even lost their sense of balance. They were strongly criticized for that. It even provoked the criticism that the media had assaulted science.
So, does violence provoke more violence?
It is no exaggeration to say that the criticism against MBC has almost reached the level of violence. Internet users claim they will start a campaign of boycotting products made by the companies that buy advertisements on PD Notebook or the MBC News. What have those companies done wrong to consumers?
The ratings of MBC have gone down because of what the broadcaster did wrong, and if advertisers decide that the effectiveness of advertising on MBC is low, it is only natural for them to pull their ads on their own judgment. Praising companies that stopped advertising on MBC because of public pressure as “national companies” and encouraging people to buy their products is a very immature response.
Of course there are people who are fired up and say that the media company that damaged our national interest should disappear. The psychology that MBC deserves such punishment because it did wrong is understandable. But are such actions rational and reasonable? Suddenly, I am reminded of a phrase that I heard back in the dark days of living under authoritarian rule: “If criticism is oppressed, praise should be reserved.”
Who knows whether a reaction like this will surface against another report in the future? In this regard, this is not just a problem of MBC’s. And those who compete with MBC should not be happy because MBC is shaking. This should be seen as a crisis of the media as a whole, although it was provoked by MBC.
Frankly, irresponsible criticism and low slander can easily be ignored. Twisted comments and ill curses can also be ignored. But if these are moved to the physical world from the Internet, they turn into violence. The level of violence will increase and the media have to be cautious to avoid all forms of violence.
The journalistic spirit of risking danger and challenging taboos and sanctuary will be put to a harsh test. In order to be an enduring reporter who is not criticized, it is natural to think that the best way is going in the direction of “what is good is good.” Even now, it can’t be denied that there are journalists and producers who sigh in relief saying “Thank God the (PD Notebook) informer didn’t come to me.”
With issues that the domestic press may fail to report while they are busy looking left and right, the foreign press might scoop them. The domestic press would then be put in the position of having to follow their reports. The domestic press also tends to put public opinion and national emotions before journalistic principles or reason. “The law of people’s emotion” can be stronger than any other law.
The problems of the press are not just problems of media companies. In this Internet age, the press is not simply the function of just media companies and journalists.
Every single person that surfs the Net, writes comments or uploads statements is no different from a journalist. Therefore, the notion that the press needs to become sound and fair is a comment that is applicable to Internet journalists also.
* The writer is the head of media planning team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Nahm Yoon-ho